Cover art of Andrew LaVogue’s EP “Surrounded by the Northern Lights.” Design by Phoebe Hunt

I owe a debt to Portland-based musician Andrew LaVogue for reminding me how instrumental music speaks its own language and can be just as captivating as music with words. LaVogue gets his message across using two types of guitars brilliantly layered with reverb and delay on his EP “Surrounded by the Northern Lights,” released on Jan. 15.

Listening to “Northern Lights,” mixed and mastered by Penumbra Recordings in South Portland, feels like being levitated into outer space in a starship that’s not in a hurry but rather stops along the way to visit Orion and Ursa Major while you slow down even more to gaze back at earth. In fact, my favorite track is called “Constellations.” Mellifluous and with an almost supernatural sound to it, the song is a five-minute mediation you’ll find yourself clinging to.

“Sun at Sand Beach” has an openness to it, like the first light of day. It’s hypnotizing and luminous, and while listening to it, you can latch onto several emotions, from loss to joy and back again.

The EP is bookended with “Surrounded by the Northern Lights,” Parts 1 and 2. The first vibrates with gentle reverb then follows an enthralling path of sound. The latter has a mystical quality to it, like walking through ancient ruins.

I was so struck after hearing about 45 seconds of the EP’s opening track, I reached out to LaVogue to get more insight into the EP that has become my soundtrack for the past 48 hours.

Andrew LaVogue. Photo by Kolby Knight

LaVogue is from the rural town of Leetonia, Ohio, and moved to Portland about five years ago in what he described as the most life-changing decision and risk he and his wife, Kelsey, have ever taken. His influences include John Fahey and The Mermen, along with Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and Pearl Jam. The guitars you’ll hear on “Surrounded by the Northern Lights,” LaVogue’s third release, are a Fender Stratocaster and a Guild acoustic.

LaVogue shared that the four songs chronicle a weekend trip that he and his wife took last summer to Acadia National Park. “As it goes from track to track, ‘Northern Lights Pt. 1’, I get terribly caught up in my head, from a cloudy mind to a pacing mind,” he explained. “After arriving at Acadia, we had loads of time to relax and explore, and spent time at Sand Beach in a really loose and light manner. ” LaVogue worked to reflect that loose, warm feeling in “Sun at Sand Beach.”

Like me, LaVogue said “Constellations” is his favorite track. “It scared me a bit to release it because of how slow and simple the guitar is,” he said, adding that it was written as a love song. “My partner and I were two of maybe six people on top of Cadillac Mountain, and you could literally see every star so clearly along with the clearest Milky Way I’ve even seen.” The closing track came out of the return drive home, which LaVogue described as “more balanced and centered after a lovely balancing weekend.”

Turns out the outer space sounds I was picking up on were by design. “The swells and bits of static are all reminiscent of the sounds NASA picks up from vibrational waves in space, and I tried to get close to that feeling of depth,” said LaVogue. “On some of these tracks I tried to emulate the sounds of space NASA captures, but kept the playing story-based and restrained.”

LaVogue’s othey key thought on the new release is that it includes elements of his favorite parts of DIY music: Postrock, ambient sounds and white noise, with American primitive-style guitar playing.

“Surrounded by the Northern Lights” can be downloaded digitally through Bandcamp (andrewlavogue.bandcamp.com) and physical copies are available in store and online at Bull Moose.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: